With the ping pong balls falling their way, the Avs' second-worst record in the league was good enough to grant them the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. This year, the Avs should be better, but will likely find themselves in that lottery once again. A mid-to-low finish in the Western Conference will likely be where the Avs wind up as they enter a tough new division that holds the Blackhawks, Wild and Blues, all playoff bound teams last season.
The Avs are a very young team and are entering the first season without veteran winger Milan Hejduk. They have some very great explosive players in Matt Duchene, captain Gabriel Landeskog, as well as rookie Nathan MacKinnon.
The organization overhauled the front office this offseason, hiring former goaltender great Patrick Roy as head coach, and former center Joe Sakic to the front office. Roy won two Stanley Cups with Colorado, and will look to coach this young team and develop them into a threat in the Western Conference in the coming seasons.
The Avs' offseason definitely helped improve the team, but they seemed to improve what was already good, the offense. They passed over one of the best defensive prospect in years in Seth Jones, to take another center when they already have three excellent young centers. They also acquired forward Alex Tanguay who will return to Denver after spending his first six seasons with the Avs.
On the defensive side of things, the Avs acquired Corey Sarich in the Alex Tanguay trade, a veteran presence on the backend of the defense. For a team that was looking to add a big name to the blue line, they fell short this offseason. The Avs will need Erik Johnson to stay healthy and return to the form he showed with St. Louis, in addition to having the young grouping of Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott and Matt Hunwick step up and mature into top defensemen.
The goaltending is still a mess, with Semyon Varlamov yet to establish his presence and take command of the starting goaltender position. Perhaps having Roy to mentor young Varlamov will help get his career back on track, otherwise he may lose starts to veteran J.S. Giguere as he did last season.
The Avs' first line has a lot of goal potential in it, with the two team leaders in points, Matt Duchene and P.A. Parenteau returning once again to the top line. Ryan O'Reilly will shift to the wing this season due to the logjam at the center position, while MacKinnon will center the third line and look to adjust to the speed of the NHL.
The Big Guns
Matt Duchene (C): Fresh off a five-year contract extension, Duchene is now the face of the franchise and will center the team's top line. Duchene tied for the team lead in points last season with 43 in 47 games. The speedy, 22 year-old center already has 193 points in his first four NHL seasons (266 games). The Avs are a young, offensive-minded team that will win games by scoring, which makes this potential point-per-game producer a very good fantasy option.
Gabriel Landeskog (LW): Landeskog missed a portion of the 2012-13 season with a concussion and he never really got into a groove. This season will be different. He's healthy and will line up on the team's second line alongside two playmaking veterans, Paul Stastny and newcomer Alex Tanguay. And he'll have loads of power-play time, too. Thirty goals and 65-70 points could be well within reach. And he might come as a relative bargain on draft day because of last year's production. Don't wait on him.
P.A. Parenteau (RW): Parenteau had a breakout season for the Avs last year, scoring a team high 18 goals and tying Matt Duchene for the team lead in points with 43. He was primarily a set-up man before coming to Colorado, but he showed a sniping side beside Duchene -- those 18 goals (48 games) matched his total in 82 games in 2011-12. He will play alongside Duchene again this season, and that could result in a 30-goal, 70-point campaign. But keeper leaguers beware -- how many guys peak after 30? Yes, Parenteau turned 30 during this past season. Keep your finger on the trade trigger, particularly if someone wants to overpay.
On the Rise
Tyson Barrie (D): Barrie had 13 points in 32 games last season for the Avs and seemed to be the lone bright spot on a horrendous blue line. The talented prospect proved he was NHL ready, playing over 21 minutes per game last season, but he was surprisingly sent down to the minors at the end of last season. That move had little to do with his talent and a lot to do with the way his contract was structured -- the Avs saved nearly a million dollars with the move. He seems to be a lock to make the team on the Avs' second defensive pair and see solid time on the power play, too. There's fantasy value in that.
Ryan O'Reilly (LW): After ending his holdout last season, O'Reilly provided an offensive spark for the Avalanche, scoring 20 points in 29 games. The two-way forward will move to left wing this upcoming season and join Matt Duchene and P.A. Parenteau on the Avs' top line. We will see how O'Reilly can adjust to a new position, but this cerebral forward will see plenty of ice time and has the opportunity to deliver like a true number one left winger.
Two to Watch
Steve Downie (RW): Fresh off knee surgery, Downie will play alongside explosive rookie Nathan MacKinnon and Jamie McGinn on the Av's third line. Injury concerns are very much an issue with this winger, as he has only played in 57 games the past two seasons combined due to knee and shoulder injuries, both of which required surgery. Downie does a little bit of everything on the ice -- he can score and set up guys, too. But he is mostly known for being a bruising checker. He has topped the 100 PIM mark three times in his career, while playing under 60 games in two of those three seasons. He could be a guy who gets you 40 points and 150 or more PIM If he can stay healthy. And that's always a risk with this guy. Draft with caution.
Semyon Varlamov (G): Varlamov had a rather forgettable season in 2012-13, finishing 11-21-3 with a 3.02 GAA. Now, he wasn't completely to blame -- he was behind one of the worst defenses in the league. The Avs have upgraded a bit on the blue line, so he should put up somewhat better numbers as the team's starter this season. But buyer beware -- the team is still young and that will result in a lot of rubber headed Varlamov's direction. He'll make a decent second goalie, but don't rely on him as your top dog.
Paul Stastny (C): Stastny will center the team's second line alongside newly acquired Alex Tanguay and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Stastny finished third in team scoring (24 points) last season and recorded the second-highest time on ice for a forward. Stastny is always around the puck looking to set up his teammates, but also can find the back of the net -- he scored 20 goals in five of his first six seasons. The Avs have a more-balanced offense this season and that means less pressure on his line. Look for a return to a 60-point season once again.
Erik Johnson (D): This former No. 1 overall pick (2005) really failed to meet expectations last season. He registered just four assists in 31 games and missed time with a wrist injury. The Avs desperately need a great season -- think St. Louis Blues circa 2010-11 -- out of the 25-year-old veteran defenseman. But we're not sure he has it in him. He's a big risk for fantasy owners -- will he return to the 40-plus point level? Or will he continue his underachieving ways? A 40-plus point pace would have made him a top-25 scoring defender in 2012-13. Take a deep breath and draft him if you can get him at sleeper value.
Alex Tanguay (LW): Tanguay, who was acquired in a trade with Calgary this offseason, should help add a veteran presence to a young Avs team. He's not the scorer he was the first time he played in the Mile High City (1999-2000 to 2005-06), but he's a great set-up man on the power play. And he could be easily be a 50-point scorer this season on the second line with rising star Gabriel Landeskog and playmaker Paul Stastny. Don't overlook him.
Nathan MacKinnon (C): MacKinnon looks like a sexy draft pick, but his fantasy effectiveness this season will be tied to how quickly his ability adjusts to the NHL level. The lightning-fast center can both score and set up his teammates as he showed last season with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL...to the tune of 32 goals and 43 assists in only 44 games. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft will center Jamie McGinn and Steve Downie on the Avalanche's third line, a place where he can be eased into potential stardom.
Chris Bigras (D): Bigras was hoping to make the NHL roster, but it looks as if he will begin the upcoming season in the AHL. Bigras was selected 32nd overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, and is an excellent two-way defender. Bigras could gain a little more weight and improve his shot from the point, but he will likely develop into a solid second-pairing defenseman for the Avs within the next few years.
Duncan Siemens (D): Siemens is a big, 6-foot-4 defenseman who is an excellent skater for his large frame. Selected 11th overall in 2011, Siemens totaled 35 points in 70 games last season in the WHL. Siemens is still a year or so away from making any sort of debut, but his skills should translate into a quality defender, but also with an offensive upside for the Avs who are very weak on the blue line.